Home LATEST NEWS HEALTH These doctors fleeing Alberta and its “toxic atmosphere”

These doctors fleeing Alberta and its “toxic atmosphere”

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It was in the fall of 2020. Lauralee Dukeshire posts a letter on her Twitter account telling her patients that she is leaving Red Deer after 15 years.

My decision to leave Alberta is made solely because of the actions of the government, she wrote. She said her departure was linked to the deterioration of the working climate and cuts in the health sector since the United Conservative Party came to power in 2019.

Lauralee Dukeshire now lives in Nanaimo, BC with her family. His case is far from isolated.

A woman wearing personal protective equipment, including a mask.

Lauralee Dukeshire now lives in Nanaimo, BC with her family.

Photo: Lauralee Dukeshire

Jillian Ratti also chose, reluctantly, to move with her four children and her husband to settle in British Columbia. She had worked as a family physician for 10 years in Calgary.

According to statistics from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, a record number of them left the province in 2021 compared to the previous five years. Last year, 140 physicians left Alberta, and 158 decided to voluntarily revoke their licensure without giving a specific reason.

The College of Quebec estimates that there are about forty doctors who, in 2021, have abandoned their practice in the province to go work elsewhere.

Discord for two years

Everything changed between the doctors and the Kenney government in February 2020. Just weeks before the province was plunged into a health crisis, negotiations between the Minister of Health and the doctors to renew their contract were at an impasse.

The previous Minister of Health, Tyler Shandro, then decided to unilaterally end their agreement without going through an arbitration process, as doctors are entitled to.

The Minister then imposed a new remuneration framework without consulting them to reduce certain service fees for general practitioners.

Tyler Shandro.

Tyler Shandro is now Attorney General.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

In response, the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) launched a lawsuit. Talks have since resumed with a new Minister of Health, but no new agreement has yet been ratified.

There is progress. I am sure that if the negotiations are successful, it will help recruit and retain doctors, since stability will returnsays Vesta Michelle Warren, the president of theAlberta Medical Association.

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Personal attacks

From the start of this dispute, Jillian Ratti sensed that the government was hostile towards family physicians. As I openly criticized [les décisions], I received personal attacks. It was becoming intimidation. It was disturbing.

These repeated personal attacks, she says she received them, among other things, on Twitter, in particular from Matt Wolf, a former close associate of the Prime Minister, and from the official account of the United Conservative Party.

Some were about his former candidacy for the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 2015 federal election. Another post questioned his sanity.

A tweet with the United Conservative Party account.

In a tweet, the United Conservative Party of Alberta wrote: “Unhinged former NDP candidate loses her mind on Twitter. »

Photo: Twitter

People who work with this government have been known to go after individuals, including doctors, who speak out against them, particularly through online harassment.says Lauralee Dukeshire.

The doctor evokes an evening in February 2020. As she returned from a demonstration, she received a message from the Minister of Health on her cell phone. According to her, the latter had called her to understand her concerns about the decisions of his government after she had asked to speak to him during a visit to his hospital.

It was a great coincidence to come back from a protest and have a voicemail from a high-ranking government official in charge of the department where I work.she says.

She adds that she felt intimidated.

For Lauralee Dukeshire, what was the last straw happened in June 2020. Fearing the mass departure of doctors, Tyler Shandro wanted to ban group resignations.

I said to myself that if the government goes so far as to force doctors to work for them, I will leave. And that’s where I made my decision.

Significant damage

Lori Williams, professor of political science at Mount Royal University, is hardly surprised that doctors are ending their practice. For years, the political scientist has noted that political employees of Prime Minister Jason Kenney have directly attacked health care workers on social networks.

Former health minister Tyler Shandro is also under investigation by the Law Society of Alberta. Albertans, including a doctor, claim to have been intimidated by the elected official.

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The damage is so great that it will be difficult for the government to regain the confidence of doctors and recruit them to deal with the shortage in the province says Lori Williams.

More departures to come

Lauralee Dukeshire tells herself that she made the right choice in moving elsewhere, even if this decision caused other problems.

I knew that by going to British Columbia I would earn much less money and the cost of living would be much highershe explains.

If she decided, after having hesitated for a long time, to open up to the population about the reasons for her departure, it is because she wants to show the consequences of the government’s actions.

For more than a year, Jillian Ratti has still not resumed her practice and does not know if she will put her stethoscope around her neck one day. The Alberta government and the pandemic have taken away her taste for the profession, she admits.

Kate Bisby, a friend and colleague, is preparing to do the same in a few months. She is in burnout after trying to fight back against government cuts and the closure of supervised injection sites.

I’ve had patients who died of overdoses during the pandemic and it shook meshe said with emotion in her voice.

According to her, some doctors are afraid of the possible consequences of a public statement and now prefer to keep quiet.

I don’t know if there is a real risk, but the perception of risk is enormous. »

A quote from Kate Bisby

Steven Buick, spokesman for the Minister of Health, did not answer our questions about Tyler Shandro’s call for doctors or government officials’ attacks on doctors on social media.

On the other hand, he points out that the figures from the College of Physicians also show a total gain of 33 doctors in 2021, despite the departures.

However, this trend has been declining for five years. In recent years, the number of doctors has been growing by almost 200 a year, according to data from the College of Physicians.

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